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152                                                                                                            B- POLEVOI
meant for another's ears, so he shut his eyes and pretend-
ed to be asleep.
"It's the twenty-ninth of April today, his birthday.
He is—no, he would have been. . . thirty-six," the profes-
sor said in a low voice.
With great difficulty the Commissar pulled his large,
swollen hand out from under his blanket and laid it on
Vasily Vasilyevich's. An incredible thing happened:
the professor broke into tears. It was painful to see
this big, strong man weeping. Alexei involuntarily
hunched his shoulders and covered his head with his
"Before leaving for the front, he came to see me,"
continued the professor. "He told me that he had joined
the People's Volunteers and asked me to appoint someone
to take over his work. He worked with me here. I was
so amazed that I yelled at him. I simply could not under-
stand why a Candidate in medicine and a talented
scientist should take up a rifle. But he said—I remember
every word—he said: 'There are times, Dad, when a
Candidate in medicine must take up a rifle.' That is what
he said and asked me again: 'Who is taking over from
me?' All I had to do was to make one phone call—and
nothing, nothing would have happened, nothing, do you
understand? He was in charge of a department in a
military hospital. I'm right, aren't I?"
Vasily Vasilyevich stopped, breathing heavily with a
hoarse rattle. Then he went on:
"Don't do that, dear boy. Take your hand away. I
know how painful it is for you to move. Yes, I sat up
all night, thinking what to do. You understand, I knew
of another man—you know who I mean—who had a
son, an officer, and he was killed in the very first day of
the war. Do you know what that father did? He sent
his second son to the war, sent him as a fighter-pilot, the
most dangerous speciality in the war___I remembered
that man then and felt ashamed of my thoughts, and so
I did not telephone___"
"Are you sorry now?"
"No, Do you call it being sorry? I go about asking
myself: Am I the murderer of my only son? He could
have been here now with me, and both of us would